The Detail Devil has turned 7 years old! And to celebrate, I’ve put together my Top 15 most commonly edited APA7 style points, gleaned from my applying APA style to hundreds of manuscripts over the last 7 years.

This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive — you’ll need to refer to the APA7 Publication Manual and online resources for that — but if you get used to applying these most commonly edited APA style points during the drafting process, you’ll save yourself both time and money that might otherwise be spent on copyediting.

Each style point below, cited directly from the APA7 Publication Manual, includes an example of use, fiendish tips for self-editing, and links to further resources.

Covered in this blog post: the serial comma, colon following an independent clause, em dash to set of a parenthetical clause, en dash between words of equal weight or in a numerical range, ellipsis in direct quotes, hyphenation in prefixes and suffixes and compound terms, abbreviations and symbols for units of measurement, spacing following punctuation, capitalisation of theories and concepts, the singular ‘they’, and when to express numerals as numbers.

1. ‘Use a comma … between elements in a series of three or more items, including before the final item.’

 principals, teachers, and students

 principals, teachers and students

Fiendish Tip: This is known as a serial comma, or Oxford comma. Turn on Word’s grammar checker by going to File > Options > Proofing, and then tick the box ‘Mark grammar errors as you type’. In that same section, open the Grammar Settings dialogue box, scroll down to ‘Punctuation Conventions’ and then tick the box ‘Oxford comma’.

APA7: Section 6.3 (Comma)

See also: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/punctuation/serial-comma

2. ‘Use a colon between a grammatically complete introductory clause … and a final phrase or clause that illustrates, extends, or amplifies the preceding thought.’

 My research question was ‘How many editors does it take to change a light bulb?’

 My research question was: ‘How many editors does it take to change a light bulb?’

Fiendish Tip: By ‘grammatically complete introductory clause’, APA means an independent clause, or complete sentence, which is a clause that can stand alone as a sentence (containing both subject and verb and expressing a complete thought). In the example above, you’ll note that ‘My research question was’ cannot stand alone as a sentence, so no colon is required. Further, if the clause following the colon is a complete sentence, capitalise the first word.

APA7: Section 6.4 (Colon): https://apastyle.apa.org/learn/faqs/colon-use

See also: Cambridge Dictionary (Clauses; see https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/clauses

3. ‘Use an em dash to set off an element added to amplify or digress from the main clause.’

 All participants—including principals, teachers, and students—attended.

 All participants — including principals, teachers, and students – attended.

Fiendish Tip: APA here advises to use the em dash to set off parenthetic information — although beware of overusing the em dash as it may weaken your writing. There are several ways to insert an em dash in Word; see the link to my Devilish Details blog post below.

APA7: Section 6.6 (Dash)

Devilish Details: How to implement the em and en dash in Word: 4 simple ways

4. ‘Use an en dash between words of equal weight in a compound adjective.’

 The teacher–student relationship is important.

 The teacher-student relationship is important.

Fiendish Tip: It may seem time consuming to have to locate the en dash in Word and insert that instead of a hyphen, but like the em dash, there are several ways to quickly and easily insert an en dash in Word; see the link to my Devilish Details blog post in (3) above.

APA7: Section 6.6 (Dash)

5. ‘Use an en dash … to indicate a numerical range, such as a page or date range.’

 pp. 71–98        1963–2021        20%–45%

  pp. 71-98         1963-2021        20%-45%

Fiendish Tip: For ways to insert an en dash in Word, see my Devilish Details blog post in (3) above.

APA7: Section 6.6 (Dash)

6. ‘Use an ellipsis to indicate that you have omitted words within a quotation … type three periods with spaces around each (. . .) or use the ellipsis character.’

  Smith (2022) stated that ‘those participants who reported feeling this way . . . may need further assistance’.

  Smith (2022) stated that ‘those participants who reported feeling this way … may need further assistance’.

Fiendish Tip 1: For the first version of the two examples above — i.e. three ellipsis points with a space between each — ensure that you insert nonbreaking spaces (press Ctrl + Shift + Spacebar) after each period so that your three ellipsis do not split over two lines of text (e.g. where they appear at the end of a line).

Fiendish Tip 2: For the second version, to insert the ellipsis character in Word, there are several ways to do this: (a) Insert > Symbol (Normal Text > General Punctuation), (b) use Word’s AutoCorrect Function (File > Options > Proofing > Autocorrect Options, then look for the ellipsis character in the Replace/With boxes or (c) Press Alt + 8230 (if you have a numerical keyboard).

Fiendish Tip 3: Check that you have used your preferred method throughout by using the Find/Replace function in Word (press Ctrl + H) to search for either (a) three periods and replace with three periods with nonbreaking spaces (copy from your Word document and paste into the Replace box) or (b) three periods and replace with the ellipsis character (paste it into the Replace box).

APA7: Section 8.31 (Changes to a Quotation Requiring Explanation)

7. ‘Write most words formed with prefixes and suffixes as one word without a hyphen.’

  antisocial, coordinate, multidisciplinary, nonsignificant, posttest, semistructured, subquestion

  anti-social, co-ordinate, multi-disciplinary, non-significant, post-test, semi-structured, sub-question

Most prefixes and suffixes can be written as one word; if in doubt, consult APA’s preferred dictionary (the Merriam-Webster, link below).

Fiendish Tip 1: Note on a style sheet all your decisions regarding hyphenation. Run a search in Word (press Ctrl + F) to search for those same words but with hyphens, and this will ensure consistency throughout.

Fiendish Tip 2: Create your own custom dictionary for specific manuscripts; see my Devilish Details blog post, link below.

APA7: Section 6.12 (Hyphenation) and Table 6.2 (Prefixes and Suffixes That Do Not Require Hyphens)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/spelling-hyphenation/hyphenation

Devilish Details: How to make the most of Word’s custom dictionary

See also: Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/

8. Hyphenate … a phrase used as an adjective when it precedes the term it modifies. … Do not hyphenate … a compound that follows the term it modifies.’

  t-test results; low-frequency words; decision-making behaviour; one-on-one interviews

  results of the t test; words that are low frequency; behaviour related to decision making; interviews that are one on one

There are a great many examples of when to hyphenate, or not, far too many to cover here, but the above examples are some of the more common ones I come across when editing. Refer to Section 6.12 for full detail.

Fiendish Tip: Per (7) above, note on a style sheet the decisions you make regarding hyphenation, then run a search of your document to ensure consistency throughout.

APA7: Section 6.12 (Hyphenation)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/spelling-hyphenation/hyphenation

See also: Table 6.1 (Guide to Hyphenating Temporary Compound Words), Table 6.2 (Prefixes and Suffixes That Do Not Require Hyphens) and Table 6.3 (Compound Words That Require Hyphens) in Section 6.12

9. ‘Use abbreviations and symbols for units of measurement that are accompanied by numeric values; do not make symbols or abbreviations of units plural.’

  5 cm, 25 kg, 5 s, 12 min, 24 hr

  5 cms, 25 kgs, 5 secs, 12 mins, 24 hrs

APA7: Section 6.27 (Unit of Measurement Abbreviation)

See also: APA7 abbrevations checklist: Abbreviations Quick Guide, APA Style 7th Edition [PDF]

10. ‘Insert one space following a period [full stop] and other punctuation; do not insert a space after internal periods in abbreviations.’

  U.S. Department of State                        4.00 a.m.

  U. S. or US Department of State            4.00 am

Fiendish Tip 1: To find instances of two spaces following a period, use Word’s Find/Replace function (press Ctrl + H) to search for two spaces and replace with one space. First check that you haven’t used your space bar to format text on a page — for example, in a table — otherwise, havoc may ensue!

Fiendish Tip 2: Tick the box ‘One space between sentences’ (File > Options > Proofing > Grammar Settings) to instruct Word to show you where more than one space occurs following a period or other punctuation.

APA7: Section 6.1 (Spacing After Punctuation Marks)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/punctuation/space-after-period

11. ‘Use the singular ‘they’ … (a) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and (b) when referring to a specific, known person who uses ‘they’ as their pronoun.’

  In their recent paper on the use of the singular ‘they’, Smith (2022) stated …

  In his/her recent paper on the use of the singular ‘they’, Smith (2022) stated …

Unless you know a person’s preferred pronoun, use the singular ‘they’, a generic third-person singular pronoun. It is preferred by APA as it is inclusive of all peoples and helps writers to avoid making assumptions about gender. Until the day comes when journals include authors’ pronouns in their biographies by default, it will be time consuming to search online for this information, so my recommendation is to use the singular ‘they’.

APA7: Section 4.18 (Singular ‘They’)

Further APA: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/grammar/singular-they

APA7 Style Blog: https://apastyle.apa.org/blog/singular-they

12. ‘Do not capitalize … theories, concepts, principles, models, and statistical procedures.’

  Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Bloom’s taxonomy, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, two-sample t test

APA7: Section 6.16 (Diseases, Disorders, Therapies, Theories, and Related Terms)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/capitalization/diseases-disorders-therapies

13. ‘Use numerals to express … numbers 10 and above … and both cardinal and ordinal numbers.’

  21st century          15 participants                  10th-grade students

  21st century          fifteen participants           tenth-grade students

APA7: Section 6.32 (Numbers Expressed in Numerals)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/numbers/numerals

14. ‘Use numerals to express … numbers that represent time, dates, ages, scores and points on a scale, exact sums of money, and numerals as numerals.’

  5 days, 12 weeks, 3 months, 20 years

  7-year-old female, 19-year-old male

  3 hr 15 min

  scored 5 on a 7-point Likert scale

APA7: Section 6.32 (Numbers Expressed in Numerals)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/numbers/numerals

15. ‘Use numerals to express … numbers that denote a specific place in a numbered series and parts of books and tables.’

  Part 1, Chapter 2, Term 3, Table 4, Figure 5

  the first part, the second chapter, the third term, the fourth table, the fifth figure

However, when the number precedes the noun, the usual guidelines for number use apply.

APA7: Section 6.32 (Numbers Expressed in Numerals)

APA’s brief overview: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/numbers/numerals

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